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The SEC East is again the worst Power 5 college football division

The gap between the SEC's two divisions might be as wide as ever.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The SEC East isn't just significantly worse than the SEC West.

According to at least one ranking, the East has become the single worst in major-conference college football, behind the maligned Big Ten West and narrowly ahead of the mid-major Mountain West's top division.

The SEC East is so bad that the league could add 3-5 Notre Dame and watch its average ranking in S&P+, an opponent-adjusted advanced stat, go up.

Here's how every FBS division's average team stacks up by that metric, including the division-less Big 12, Sun Belt, and four independents:

Average S&P+ ranking
SEC West 25.4
ACC Atlantic 39
ACC Coastal 44.1
Big Ten East 46
Pac-12 South 47.8
Pac-12 North 49
Big 12 49
Big Ten West 53
SEC East 58.7
MWC Mountain 64
American East 64.8
Independents 67
American West 68.5
MAC West 70.3
C-USA East 90.6
C-USA West 91.3
Sun Belt 93.8
MWC West 97.8
MAC East 108.5

Mostly, these rankings are about what you'd expect.

They're based on play-by-play data and opponent strength, and they align pretty closely with the major human polls.

It won't surprise anyone that the Alabama-led SEC West grades out as the country's best division, just like it did last year. It also won't be a shock that the ACC Atlantic is next, with Clemson, Louisville, and Florida State all there. The Big Ten East -- with Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State -- also ranks highly despite having Rutgers and 2016's version of Michigan State.

The Pac-12's two divisions are just about equally strong this year, and on the whole, they're about equal with the Big 12. As maligned as that league is, it gets a boost from having Oklahoma, Baylor, and West Virginia in the top 25 and only having two real bottom-feeders, Iowa State and Kansas.

The best Group of 5 divisions are the Mountain West's Mountain division and the American East. S&P+ really likes Temple (ranked 33rd) and South Florida (36th), and the only AAC East team that's glaringly bad is Connecticut. The MWC Mountain has a good Boise State and no one ranked below 80th.

But, boy howdy, it's staggering how bad the SEC East is.

Not that anyone opened this post expecting the East to win some kind of medal.

Kentucky's in second place in this division, which says more about the division than it does about Kentucky. Onetime leader and national title contender Tennessee has collapsed on itself like a star. Top-10 recruiter Georgia is 4-4. Missouri isn't even a dilapidated shell of what it was a few years ago, and Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt.

So far this year, the West is 7-1 against the East, with the only win by Kentucky against Mississippi State.

From SEC Country:

Should the East lose out, including for an eighth consecutive year in the SEC title game, it would continue the trend of declining success against the West every season since expansion in 2012. That year, the East went 7-8 against the West, then 6-9 in 2013, 4-11 in 2014 and 2-13 last fall.

This is a horrifying situation. The specifics, by S&P+ rank:

Team Ranking
Florida 9
Tennessee 32
Missouri 55
Kentucky 62
Georgia 70
South Carolina 85
Vanderbilt 98

The league has exactly one good team. It might have one other decent team. And then it has teams that range from standard-fare Power 5 dead weight to some of the worst in the country.

Look at Georgia, all the way at 70. The teams immediately before Georgia are Navy and Maryland. The teams immediately behind it are Wyoming and Duke.

To repeat, the SEC East is so abysmal that Notre Dame, which is 3-5 and ranked 43rd on this index, would be the third-best team in the division. That's where we are. Notre Dame would be an improvement.

The SEC East's badness is not a new thing. In a way, it's getting worse.

By average S&P+ slot, the division is incrementally better than it was last year. But it was the worst Power 5 division in 2015, too, and its gains don't hold up relative to the rest of the country's major conferences.

Average S&P+ ranking
Big Ten East 40.3
SEC West 40.4
Pac-12 North 41
ACC Atlantic 43.3
Pac-12 South 49.9
Big 12 51.6
Big Ten West 52.3
Independents 56.3
ACC Coastal 56.4
SEC East 60.4
MWC Mountain 72.5
American West 72.8
MAC West 75.5
American East 76.8
MAC East 78.8
C-USA East 84.6
Sun Belt 91.9
MWC West 92.8
C-USA West 99.7

Last year, the gulf between the East and the worst Group of 5 division, the MWC Mountain, was 12 spots in average S&P+ rating. That's significant. This year, the gap is only about five spots, with the Mountain inching closer and closer to the East. The AAC East is about six spots back. That's how bad the quality of play has been this year.

Eventually, this will get better. But that it's currently this bad is stunning.

These things are cyclical. The East used to be better than the West.

Still, the East should never be this bad.

The SEC East has a handful of the country's top recruiters. Florida and Georgia regularly recruit at a national championship level, and Tennessee hasn't been so far behind. The division's footprint includes some of the country's best recruiting areas, several of its members throw tons of money at football, and all seven teams have made fresh coaching hires in the last few years.

This is something else, though.